Alabama Botches Another Execution

My former home state executes more people per capita than any other state in the union. It has not gotten much better at it.

My former home state executes more people per capita than any other state in the union. It has not gotten much better at it.

YahooNews/The Independent (“Alabama inmate wished for death during botched execution, according to medical report“):

An Alabama death-row inmate who survived a failed execution attempt has said he wanted to die during the process to end the pain he was going through.

The state attempted to execute Doyle Lee Hamm by lethal injection last month, but halted the procedure just before midnight, when they were unable to kill him.

Hamm’s attorney, Bernard Harcourt, has claimed the execution was called off because medical staff were unable to find a vein in which to administer the lethal injection before the death warrant expired. A medical examination report filed by Mr Harcourt this week claims Hamm had at least 11 puncture wound on his body following the procedure.

Jeff Dunn, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, originally claimed that medical staff stopped the execution because “they didn’t in their judgement think that they could obtain the appropriate veinous access before the warrant would expire”. He later claimed the sole reason for halting the execution was “the lateness of the hour”.

According to the medical report, conducted by Dr Mark Heath three days after the failed execution, Hamm recalled being stabbed repeatedly in his legs while the medical staff attempted to find a suitable vein. He said the execution team later moved to his groin in an attempt to find a vein. The procedure, he said, was extremely painful.

“During this time Mr Hamm began to hope that the doctor would succeed in obtaining IV access so that Mr Hamm could ‘get it over with’ because he preferred to die rather than to continue to experience the ongoing severe pain,” the report states.

The report adds that Hamm was shivering and trembling from fear, as well as from cold. Afterward, he told the doctor he had experienced nightmares and flashbacks to the execution.

“This was clearly a botched execution that can only be accurately described as torture,” Mr Harcourt said in a statement shortly after the procedure.

Bob Horton, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said the department disagreed with the claim that Hamm was tortured. He declined to comment further on the allegations in the report.

Hamm was convicted of killing a hotel clerk in 1987 and has been imprisoned ever since. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Mr Hancourt has argued that the disease caused his veins to shrink, making it impossible to carry out a human execution. The Alabama Attorney General’s office has argued that the cancer is in remission.

I was in high school in 1983, when Alabama executed its first prisoner in my lifetime (there had been a moratorium since 1965). There have been 60 more since then. Until 2002, the executions were carried out using “Yellow Mama,” an electric chair built in 1927. From literally the first of the modern executions, there were problems:

John Louis Evans 3d was electrocuted at Holman Prison tonight. He was the seventh person executed in America since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 and the first to be put to death in Alabama since 1965.

Warden J.D. White threw the switch at 8:30 P.M., sending 1,900 volts of electricity through the condemned man’s body for the first of three 30-second jolts.


Upon the first jolt of electricity, the strap holding Mr. Evans’s left leg blew apart. Prison doctors said he was still alive. Three minutes later, a second charge was activated.

Mr. Evans’s attorney, Russell Canan, then demanded that Gov. George C. Wallace be called with a request for clemency, saying the repeated shocks constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The Governor was called, but said through a press aide he would ”not grant clemency at this time.” At 8:40, seven minutes after the second charge, a third jolt of electricity was sent through Mr. Evans’s body in order to ”be certain” that death had come. He was pronounced dead at 8:44 P.M.

Thirty-one reporters were witnesses to the execution on a video monitor near the execution chamber, and three others served as official witnesses in the chamber.

The State Commissioner of Corrections, Fred Smith, said at a press conference later that the second and third electrical charges were required because the electrode came off Mr. Evans’s leg in the first attempt. It was nothing that could have been foreseen or prevented, Mr. Smith said, adding that the leather strap was new and the chair had been tested every day this week.

Regarding which of the charges of electricity killed Mr. Evans, the Commissioner said that between the second and third charges, he ”could not say if he was alive at that point.”

There were 23 more prisoners executed using that same chair. As one might have expected, there were numerous other failures, requiring multiple attempts to finally kill the condemned. After the move to lethal injection, there have been fewer mishaps but, presumably because medical personnel don’t get a lot of practice intentionally killing people, not zero.

To be sure, death row inmates are not the most sympathetic cases. The natural response to the plight of Evans and Hamm is that it’s better than their victims got. But the state represents the larger community. And the 8th Amendment protects against cruel and unusual punishments. Alabama’s system is, sadly, both.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JohnMcC says:

    The original post has a quote: “hope that the doctor would succeed…” in starting an IV. I’d suggest that probably (hopefully) the person being referred to is actually not a physician. I believe that medical ethics would forbid that – speaking as a retired RN with lots of family connections to MDs.

    I’m sure I’m in agreement with Dr Joyner in regards to the inhumanity and cruelty of this system in AL and no doubt several other states.

    Still, I’m a crank about that sort of accuracy in media. OK. I really TRY to be that sort of crank.



  2. Franklin says:

    The human body is on the one hand a delicate machine, but on the other hand very resilient. People have survived lethal injections, hangings, electrocutions, i.e. pretty much anything that avoids the essentials.

    Time to bring back the guillotine.

    Yes, I’m mostly joking. I’m not personally a fan of the death penalty until:
    1) A new legal standard is set much higher than just ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.
    2) The punishment is doled out somewhat equitably, rather than just to poor black people.
    3) It can be implemented without torture.
    4) It can be done at less cost than life in prison.



  3. Jesse says:


    I ain’t joking about the guillotine. If you’re going to kill someone, there’s really no more effective way, and it requires no medical experience. It might be hard for the witnesses to watch, but what of it? You’re killing someone. It shouldn’t be easy to watch.

    (Obviously, this leaves out the moral questions about capital punishment.)

    And wrt point (2) let’s leave that one alone. Black people will stop getting the death penalty so much when they stop committing so many murders.



  4. Mister Bluster says:

    one of your white brothers murdered 58 people in Las Vegas recently and in Florida the white boy murdered 17 high school students.
    what are you whining about



  5. teve tory says:

    Man, I’d love a Pie Filter right about now.



  6. Jesse says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Do you have difficulty with statistics? Black men commit well over half the murders in the USA. There are plenty of arguments against capital punishment; whining about blacks getting it ain’t one of them. Unless you want to complain that it unfairly targets men as well? Maybe demand that more women get the needle?



  7. grumpy realist says:

    @Jesse: Well, if we’re going by your logic, we should implement a curfew on all males between the ages of, say, 10 and 60. There’s a far higher link between sex and crime than race and crime. You willing to stay home every night between 7 pm and 6 am for the good of the community?




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